When you’re hosting a TV or radio show that relies on guests, you want people who will make your life easier by being prepared to entertain. In my radio career, I knew I could always count on Carl Reiner, Brian Regan, Dave Barry, Kathleen Madigan, Meredith Vieira, and a few others to fill an hour with laughter and interesting conversation.
Similarly, for late-night TV hosts, there has always been a short list of money-in-the-bank guests any host could count on. For Johnny Carson, Rodney Dangerfield and Buddy Hackett fit the bill. For David Letterman, Bonnie Hunt and Tom Hanks. Jay Leno was a terrible interviewer, but when he was in the guest chair on Letterman’s show, he was a riot.
Teri Garr and Charles Grodin approached the task differently, yet always killed. The pre-slap Will Smith could spar with anyone, Arsenio Hall in particular. Nathan Lane can still be counted on, ready with a hysterical memorized monologue of pure silliness for which the host merely has to play straight man/woman. And let’s not forget the late Regis Philbin, who was willing to play along with anything thrown at him.
Martin Short would have to be included on any list of all-time great guests. I leave it to you to search YouTube for his past performances, which often included show tunes with special lyrics. But here he is from Thursday night with Jimmy Fallon, delivering despite the host’s ineptness, overreactions, and groveling. This is a master class, not just in being primed and energetic, but in segueing from topic to topic seamlessly and hitting every line out of the park.